This article looks at our consumer rights related to washing machines (or any other white goods appliances) that break down – especially soon after purchase. It looks at it from both customer and retailer points of view. Before jumping in and angrily demanding a replacement it’s best to try and look at the subject objectively and see the full picture.
I don’t want my washing machine repaired – I want it exchanged
This is a common demand, which often causes conflict between consumers and retailers. If a washing machine breaks down soon after purchase, or suffers more than one fault, many customers believe they are entitled to refuse an engineer and demand an exchange. This has often been difficult (unless a retailer has a 28 day exchange policy) but the new Consumer Rights Act 2015 now makes this very simple. If a new appliance goes faulty within 30 days then we are now entitled to a full refund if that’s what we want.
Is the washing machine really faulty?
Make sure there is definitely a fault on the washing machine (or any appliance) that is not caused by faulty installation or a user fault. Failing to read the instruction book causes a lot of avoidable problems. Check the list over on this article here is the washing machine actually faulty? which shows 9 examples of “faults” that aren’t washing machine faults at all, and are caused by installation or user errors. You can be charged if it turns out to be one of these faults.
They are not going to just exchange an appliance without sending an engineer to check it first
Once you’ve read the list mentioned above you can see why it’s highly unlikely anyone will exchange a washing machine simply because it’s reported faulty. There are so many alternative explanations it’s almost certain an engineer will need to inspect and confirm it is genuinely faulty before doing anything else.
But what if the washing machine IS faulty, can I insist on an exchange?
The Consumer Rights Act 2015 has now given us the right for a full refund if an appliance is faulty within the first 30 days. If the washing machine is genuinely faulty you can request your money back if you stop using it and reject it. Some major retailers have exchange policies where they will swap the machine within the first 28 days or so without much hassle although this has nothing to do with any consumer rights, and is just a commercial good will policy decision. (It does offer some extra reassurance though when buying).
The sooner a fault occurs the more likely a retailer will exchange it. Usually, after roughly a month they tend to get very reluctant. If a substantial fault occurs within the first 6 months you have a better chance of getting it exchanged because (as described below) the Sale of Goods Act says faults within the first 6 months are inherent, and must have been present when sold unless the retailer can prove otherwise.
Should you complain the manufacturer?
Under UK consumer law the manufacturer is not responsible. Only the retailer who sold it has any obligation regarding faulty goods. A manufacturer has an obligation to honour their guarantee, but they have no obligation to exchange faulty appliances, and of course can’t possibly give you your money back because you gave it to the retailer not them. Some manufacturers will get involved, and sometimes offer to exchange a machine but this is purely a gesture. If they do offer something acceptable that’s fine, but if they don’t, remember the retailer is bound by the Sale of Goods act and it’s them you should be negotiating with. (Related: Why can’t I complain to the manufacturer? They made it – aren’t they ultimately responsible?)
Retailers can sometimes insist on repairing – not replacing an appliance
Automatically rejecting a washing machine over any fault is not necessarily a good idea. If it breaks down the first time you use it (or within a short time of buying it) it’s common to instinctively want to reject it. As customers, we often appear to undergo a psychological rejection of goods, which is not based on any logic. It’s almost as if the washing machine is cursed and doomed to constant failure so it must be got rid of. Try not to lose sight of the fact that any product can develop a fault, but it doesn’t mean there is something seriously wrong with it and that it will never stop breaking down. Bear in mind that a minor repair may be considerably more convenient for all concerned including yourself. What’s the point for example of going through all the hassle of getting a washing machine exchanged if it can be fixed in 5 minutes with hardly any effort?
Also bear in mind that a retailer can insist on a repair if they can show that replacing the appliance is disproportionately more expensive than a repair – though probably not not if the product is faulty from the start and you want to reject it. Some faults can be pretty minor and hardly warrant a total rejection. Because the Sale of Goods Act gives us the right to reject a faulty product but also gives retailers a right to repair it if it only has a minor fault it’s often a stalemate, which at times, only a small claims court can decide on.
Faults within the first 6 months are deemed to have been present when sold
A new amendment to consumer law in 2002 shifted the burden of proof of fault from the consumer to the seller within the first 6 months. This means if a fault occurs within 6 months, it is automatically assumed that the goods were "inherently faulty" unless the seller can prove otherwise. This is as good as saying if a new part can't last a mere 6 months, it must have been faulty (or of sub-standard quality) when it was fitted to the washing machine and it was therefore sold with a fault.
You can request a replacement, or a refund though they may try to give a partial refund, which takes into account the fact that you’ve had some use from it. An example of this could be if your washing machine works fine after purchase, but 5 months later the motor, or main PCB fails. You could argue that under the sale of goods act, this part must have been faulty when sold (inherent fault). Therefore you can reject the washing machine and negotiate a refund. However, it may make more sense to just get it repaired if it’s only minor and can be done quickly.
Why are retailers so reluctant to exchange a faulty appliance?
This could be why – Is the sale of goods act too hard on retailers?
The sale of goods act
Some people think that because the sale of goods act gives us up to 6 years (5 in Scotland) to claim compensation this means we have a claim any time it breaks down within the 6 years – wrong. Read this article here – Sale of Goods Act gives us 6 years to claim for faulty appliances?
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Please note: I’m not a consumer expert, the advice in my consumer advice section is my personal opinion based on a week long study on the subject coupled with my 30 years experience in the trade.
Which? are a great source of independent consumer advice and product reviews and you can benefit from their highly respected opinions and experience online – Get a full 1 month trial offer for just £1 – (Why take out a Which? 1 month trial?)
Free downloadable booklets from The Citizens Advice Bureau website
- Your rights, buying goods guide – (Free downloadable (pdf) booklet from Citizens Advice Bureau)
- Guarantees – (Free downloadable (pdf) booklet from Citizens Advice Bureau)
Free downloadable booklets from The Office of Fair Trading website
Remember, if you are buying your washing machine from home, perhaps over the internet or through a mail-order catalogue, you have additional rights.